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What is an Inference?

If I Need to Make One, What Is It?

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Confused Woman
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Make an Inference Introduction

On standardized tests with a verbal, reading comprehension or critical reading section, your ability to process and understand what you've read is going to be tested. There's just no way around it! Not only will you need to understand how to find the main idea, determine the author's purpose of writing, understand vocabulary in context, you'll also need to understand how to make an inference at some point, too.

So, what is an inference? Let's figure that out, here.

An Inference Defined

In order to knock the verbal section of your standardized test or even the reading portion of your test in school right out of the ballpark, you need to know what an inference is, first. An inference is an assumption made based on specific evidence. We make inferences all the time in real life. For instance, your girlfriend might say to you, "Nice hair," and you could make the inference that she is being rude because she was smirking when she said it. In life, it's pretty easy to infer the implied meaning – the meaning not stated directly – because you can use context clues like body language, tone, and gestures to help you get the real meaning.

Inferences In Real Life

Inferences aren't wicked devices crafted by reading teachers to make your life miserable. All sorts of people use inferences in both their daily and professional lives all the time. Doctors make inferences when they diagnose conditions. They take a peek at X-rays, MRIs, observations and communication with the patient for evidence that will lead them to a diagnosis. Crime scene investigators make inferences when they follow clues like fingerprints, DNA, and footprints to find out how and when the crime was committed. Mechanics make inferences when they run diagnostics, tinker around in the engine, and chat with you about how your car is acting to figure out what's wrong under the hood.

Likewise, you infer things all the time. If someone stares angrily at you from the rearview mirror and mimics yelling when you're stopped behind them at a red light, you might come to the conclusion that you've offended him or her while driving in some way. If a woman is pushing a covered stroller down the street, you'd probably infer that there's a baby in the stroller.

Inferences and Guessing

Although an inference is a guess, it's an educated one. It's based on evidence and support only. If you're inferencing correctly, you will only be able to come to just a few possible conclusions based on the support, and from there, you'll have to choose the most likely. For instance, in the cases above, the person staring at you angrily in the car may just be insane. You may not have done anything to anger him or her. Or, he or she could be yelling at someone in the backseat whom you missed in your first observation. The woman pushing the stroller could be wheeling around an old dog. Or, she could be pushing an empty stroller in order to throw her shopping bags in there instead of carrying them. It's up to you to determine, however, what is the most likely inference and go with it based on all the supporting details and your own logic.

Making an Inference on a Test

The writers of reading comprehension tests love to ask inference questions. If you're taking a reading test, you will know you'll need to practice your inferencing skills when you see a question like one of these:

  • "According to the passage, we can reasonably infer..."
  • "Based on the passage, it could be suggested that..."
  • "Which of the following statements is best supported by the passage?"
  • "The passage suggests that this primary problem..."

An inference question will often use the words "suggest" or "infer" right in the tag. And since you're educated about what an inference is and what it is NOT, you'll understand that you're to come to a conclusion based on the evidence or support presented in the passage.

Inference Conclusion

So, now that you know what an inference is, take a peek at how to make an inference on a multiple choice test so you're prepared when those reading comprehension tests come around! After you read that, try your hand at the practice inference questions below.

Make an Inference Practice Questions:

Inference Practice Questions 1
Make inferences about Photos
Make inferences about Political Cartoons

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